Distribution of Heroin: Not Guilty After Trial
A young woman was arrested by Plainville Police in Plainville, Massachusetts and initially charged in Wrentham District Court with Distribution of Heroin, Conspiracy and a Drug Violation Near a School. The charges were later filed by indictment in Norfolk County Superior Court, which sits in Dedham, Massachusetts. The woman retained Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney, John L. Calcagni III, to defend her in this matter. More than three years later, the case proceeded to trial by a jury of 12 on a single count of Distribution of a Class A Substance, or Heroin. After more than one hour of deliberations, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty.
The case began with Plainville Police investigating a drug trafficking organization based in Rhode Island that was delivering heroin to customers in Massachusetts. The police detective in charge of the investigation obtained a Rhode Island phone number for the organization that customers called to order drugs. Posing as a drug user and acting in an undercover capacity, the detective called the number and made a number of undercover drug orders followed by purchases.
Each time, the undercover detective called the number, spoke with a man who identified himself as “Smiley,” ordered a certain quantity of heroin, negotiated a sale price, and agreed upon a meeting location to take delivery. Each time, Smiley drove, either alone or with another passenger, in different Rhode Island-registered vehicles to Massachusetts. Each time, the undercover officer successfully acquired heroin from Smiley, as intended, all while under the watchful eyes of multiple police officers positioned nearby who conducted surveillance of the undercover purchases.
On the final occasion, the detective again followed his course of dealing with Smiley. He phoned him at the same number, ordered a quantity of heroin, negotiated a price, and set the meeting location. As expected, Smiley arrived to deliver the product, but this time, was accompanied by a young woman as his front seat passenger. The undercover detective approached the vehicle and entered the back-passenger side, where he sat directly behind the female. Other officers were also present conducting surveillance.
The detective claimed that once he entered the vehicle, he had a conversation with the female who he had never seen, spoken to or met before. He alleged they discussed drug quantities and price, and then he handed her money in exchange for six large bags of heroin. After retrieving the drugs, he exited the vehicle and signaled to his fellow officer who swooped in, contained the vehicle and arrested its two occupants, to include Smiley who had been driving and the female passenger. Police allege that a search of both parties yielded multiple cellphones, identifications, personal belongings, and U.S. Currency from the drug transaction, which police alleged was recovered from the female’s purse or person. Based upon this chain of events, both Smiley and the female were arrested and charged with various drug offenses.
The defendants’ cases remained pending in the court system for more than three years. Both defendants were not U.S. citizens, but were legal residents of the country with ambitions of becoming naturalized citizens. As time passed, Smiley pleaded guilty. He had no choice, as police charged him with multiple counts of distributing heroin to the same undercover officer. For him, the evidence was overwhelming. The female, however, elected to proceed to trial. She feared that by pleading guilty, she would lose her chance of becoming a U.S. citizen and face deportation from the United States. Attorney Calcagni tried tirelessly to persuade the District Attorney’s Office to dismiss the charges against his client, but was unsuccessful. After countless failed attempts, he and his client scheduled the matter for trial.
As described above, the case proceeded to trial before a jury. The prosecution called only one law enforcement witness – the detective who conducted the undercover purchases of heroin from Smiley, and from the female on a single occasion, as alleged. The detective testified as expected. However, on cross-examination, he displayed signs of confusion and uncertainty. His demonstrated repeated memory lapses were corrected by Attorney Calcagni who repeatedly confronted him with his police narrative.
The detective also testified inconsistently with his report multiple times, which Attorney Calcagni capitalized on for impeachment. This included an omission from the report that the money used by the detective to purchase heroin was recovered from the female. This alleged fact, which was apparently important to and relied upon by the prosecution, was not documented anywhere by anyone during the investigation. Even though the detective testified convincingly for the jury that the funds were recovered from the female, it was not until cross-examination by Attorney Calcagni that he conceded that he personally did not recover the funds and that they were even not recovered in his presence.
Rather, his testimony on this important point was based upon information he allegedly learned from speaking with other officers. During closing argument, Attorney Calcagni emphasized to the jury that the prosecution failed to call any other officers to corroborate the detective’s testimony. Attorney Calcagni also pointed out for the jury how conveniently during this so-called drug investigation, police failed to photograph, audio record, or video record any of the drug transactions, to include the one involving his female client.
Of all the police officers who participated in the investigation, ranging from six to ten who allegedly participated in the surveillance, not a single photo or recording was taken by anyone. When considering the various forms of technology available to law enforcement, which the detective conceded in his testimony, Attorney Calcagni argued that it was unacceptable for the jury to convict his client based solely on the unsupported word of a single police officer whose memory of the event was clearly imperfect and impliedly fabricated.
Attorney Calcagni ultimately argued that the prosecution had neither the law nor the facts on its side, and therefore, fell considerably short of proving his client’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to knowingly and intentionally participating in the distribution of heroin. He further argued that her mere presence, association with an apparent drug dealer, and knowledge of his activities did not arise to the level of guilt as to the crime charged. The jury unanimously agreed by delivering her acquittal. As a result of this excellent trial result, the female was spared from a felony drug conviction, the possibility of 10 years in jail and most importantly to her, deportation, which means she may now continue on her path to United States citizenship.